U.S. defense officials on Thursday did not give details of the crash that hit the USS Connecticut, saying only that a number of Sailors on board were injured when the the submarine hit a running object submerged in the South China Sea.
The service said the injuries were minor and the submarine arrived at the U.S. Naval Base on the Island of Guam on Friday. under his own power.
A Navy spokesperson told CNN that the bow of the submarine was damaged and that there would be a “full investigation and full assessment” of the incident.
Connecticut is one of three Seawolf-class submarines in the Navy’s fleet, with a price tag of around $ 3 billion each. The 9,300-ton, 353-foot submarine, commissioned in 1998, is powered by a single nuclear reactor and equipped with 140 sailors.
And although it is over 20 years old, it is also state-of-the-art with updates to its systems made during its lifetime.
The Navy says it is “exceptionally quiet, fast, well armed and equipped with advanced sensors.”
“These submarines have some of the most advanced – indeed the most advanced – underwater capabilities in the industry,” said Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy at King’s College London.
How did he get into trouble in the South China Sea?
While the Navy has not revealed what Connecticut hit, analysts say conditions in the South China Sea may be a challenge for the submarine’s sophisticated sensors.
“It could have been an object small enough to be missed by sonar in a noisy environment,” Patalano said.
According to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, warships use what is called “passive sonar” to detect objects in the water around them. Unlike “active sonar,” which pings and then records the time it takes for their echoes to return to the ship, passive sonar only detects sound coming towards it.
This allows the submarine to remain silent and hidden from adversaries, but it does mean that the submarines have to rely on other devices or multiple passive sonars to triangulate. the location of an object in its path.
Because the South China Sea is one of the busiest shipping lanes and fishing grounds in the world, all kinds of noises from ships on the surface can mask what could pose a danger to the submarine in below, analysts said.
“Depending on where the incident took place, noise interference of all kinds (usually traffic above) could have affected the sensors, or even their use by operators,” Patalano said.
And it’s not just shipping that can pose problems for a submarine in the South China Sea, said Carl Schuster, former captain of the United States Navy and former director of operations at the Joint Intelligence Center of the United States Command. Peaceful.
“It’s an area with a very poor acoustic environment,” Schuster said, even the nature of the waters themselves creating problems.
“Ambient noise from currents flowing between islands and inconsistent water conditions affect acoustic reception,” he added.
It’s also possible that something down below could have caused a problem, Schuster said.
“The environment of these waters and the seabed are in a state of slow but inexorable change,” said Schuster. “It’s an area that requires constant mapping of the bottom contours. You can reach an unexplored underwater mountain there.
“This is why the countries in this region, the United States and China are constantly monitoring and patrolling them. “
The accident was the second involving a submarine in the region this year. In April, an Indonesian submarine sank in the Strait of Bali, killing all 53 crew members on board.
Indonesian Navy officials said the crash was caused by “a natural / environmental factor,” but did not give further details.